Years of Shoddy Safety Policies Leave Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E) Facing Bankruptcy

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Chalk it up to years of corporate disconnection from reality, but Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E) is reportedly now facing bankruptcy after being suspected a culprit of the last devastating Californian wildfires.

The utility is not only facing severe criticism over its recurring lack of security prevention in recent years, but also gigantic lawsuits. State regulators are investigating if the company’s equipment sparked November’s Camp Fire.

PG&E Neglects Safety Despite Continuous Warnings

PG&E is now reportedly scrambling facing the consequences of the incoming wave of liability due to its potential role in California’s deadliest and most destructive fires in history. According to NPR, its parent company is looking into selling some of its major assets in order to avoid bankruptcy and pay the incoming tsunami of lawsuits. The lawsuits could exceed the market value and insurance coverage of the Californian utility.

PG&E started a program called “Project Falcon” in 2017 to deal with its potential role in previous fires in the state. But in order to face the costly lawsuits from the last fire devastations, the company is looking into selling its natural gas division as early as spring 2019. The avoidable consequences are catching up after years of deadly errors and safety violations the company has skirted. NPR quotes a senior company official and a former employee about the Project Falcon strategy. Both remain anonymous.

PG&E Faces Billions In Litigation From the Californian Wildfires

According to these sources, PG&E faces billions of dollars in potential claims from the last wildfires. It is reviewing structural options to meet customer and operational needs. In its defense, PG&E said it is looking for new directors for its board in order to raise its expertise in safety. But is it too little, too late? And what about the accountability of previous officers and responsible management?

PG&E is a private company offering energy in much of California. It was already blamed for least a dozen major fires across Northern California in 2017, according to CAL FIRE. We’ve already seen cases of major companies bailed out with taxpayer money a decade ago and PG&E could be the next one. Unfortunately, PG&E isn’t very clear on how it plans to deal with future safety and fire prevention. So far, it installed bulletproof glass at its headquarters, hardly a reassuring sign that it is taking the matter seriously.

PG&E Tries To Reassure With Mild Statements

Unfortunately, PG&E is not commenting on Project Falcon and is keeping its senior leaders away from the controversy. It did provide an expected written statement, saying: “Safety is and will continue to be our top priority as we work to determine the best path forward for all of our stakeholders. PG&E remains fully committed to helping our customers and the affected communities recover and rebuild — and to doing everything we can to reduce the risk of future wildfires.”

It is easy to understand the frustration and grief of those who lost family members and properties in those recent fires. This would be an ideal time for PG&E to show its corporate leadership with a transparent change in how it ensures the safety of its customers and the environment before profits.

When The Disconnect Between Corporations & Reality Hits A Financial Wall

Insurance companies have already filed lawsuits against the utility. To make matters worse, the state regulatory agency could slow PG&E’s sale strategy. It has expressed deep concerns about the utility’s “shoddy safety record, lack of transparency and past efforts to pass liability costs on to the state’s ratepayers.” It is also looking into making it a public utility.

It’s certainly easy to blame companies and their investors for maximizing profits by cutting corners. This is a rampant problem and a swamp that is not being drained quickly enough, if at all. Maybe things will change when citizens demand that what we take for granted be held to much higher safety standards and open to public scrutiny when lives are at stake. We can hope this invites a new wave of senior management to rise to the challenge of bringing back corporate environmental stewardship and putting customers’ safety first and foremost.

Images by Richard McCumber of Marine Corps Installations West — Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton.

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Nicolas Zart

Nicolas was born and raised around classic cars of the 1920s, but it wasn't until he drove an AC Propulsion eBox and a Tesla Roadster that the light went on. Ever since he has produced green mobility content on various CleanTech outlets since 2007 and found his home on CleanTechnica. He grew up in an international environment and his communication passion led to cover electric vehicles, autonomous vehicles, renewable energy, test drives, podcasts, shoot pictures, and film for various international outlets in print and online. Nicolas offers an in-depth look at the e-mobility world through interviews and the many contacts he has forged in those industries. His favorite taglines are: "There are more solutions than obstacles." and "Yesterday's Future Now"

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